The original, independent guide to Lisbon
The largest festival and carnival of Portugal are the Festas dos Santos Populares (Popular Saints’ Festival) held in Lisbon. The celebrations cover the feast days of Saint Peter, Saint John and most of all Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon. During the 14 days of revelry, there are traditional open air dances, impromptu BBQ's selling grilled sardines and the whole of Lisbon is decorated with steamers and tinsel.
The culmination of the festivities takes place on the night of the 12th of June, when there is a large carnival with parades going down the Avenida da Liberdade and dancing into the early hours. Lisbon is a fantastic destination to visit during the 2 weeks of the Festas dos Santos Populares, and tourists who are in Lisbon for this period will have a fun time.
The Lisbon carnival parade is on the night of the 12th of June, a Friday for 2015. Each district of Lisbon competes to be the best-decorated or have the best choreographed set of dancers, as they perform to judges down the Avenida da Liberdade.
Each district includes marching bands, dance troops, highly decorative props and the obligatory Portuguese celebrity. The whole of Lisbon tries to cram onto the 1km route, and it is a great family-friendly experience. The parade is lead by the Saint Anthony couples, who were married earlier that day. The carnival starts late (8pm) and as with all things in Lisbon, carries on late into the night.
During the two weeks of the Festas dos Santos Populares, temporary band stands and dance venues are constructed all over Lisbon, allowing patrons to dance to jolly traditional music sung by live bands. The pace of the music is fast and up-tempo, with rude or suggestive lyrics that always amuse the Portuguese. The Festas dos Santos Populares dances are free to enter and always have an onsite bar, café and barbeque, selling freshly grilled sardines. The busiest days are at the weekends, when old, young and families all mingle and dance and there is always a good atmosphere.
The Festas dos Santos Populares and Lisbon carnival is full of traditions and customs which just add to the jovial atmosphere of the capital.
One of the most popular traditions is the barbecuing of sardines on temporary stalls that are set up on the edge of the street or in front of bars and cafes. The origin of this tradition refers to a tale about Saint Anthony feeding a starving Italian village with fish, which he summoned from the sea. Really it is more of an excuse for the Portuguese to eat their favourite food – grilled sardines.
A sweet tradition of the celebrations is that partners give to their loved ones little thyme bushes that contain romantic or love poems wishing luck or happiness to that person. These little thyme plants are called "majericos" and paper representations are often seen being sold from stalls or shops. Both the sardines and the "majericos" have become the icons of Lisbon carnival.
As Saint Anthony is both the patron saint of Lisbon and of newlyweds, there is a rush for weddings on his feast day. On the 12th June, there is a mass wedding of 15 or more couples who lead the carnival procession that evening. The mass wedding occurs in the Se Cathedral, just meters away from Saint Anthony’s birthplace. Saint Anthony’s feast day is on the 12th of June, Saint John’s is on the 10th of June and Saint Peter’s wraps up the festivities on the 28th of June.